Last updated: March 30, 2020
It’s got to be the most straightforward drug test available today. An employee simply holds still long enough for the test administrator to snip about 100 hairs just near the scalp with some scissors and it’s over.
Table of contents
- Why drug test?
- When can this method be used?
- How does this test work?
- Use a pro or a DIY kit?
- Drugs that can be identified
- Are there scenarios where it cannot be used?
- Can a hair follicle drug test be cheated?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Contact us
It’s true that the hair follicle drug test is the most expensive method. It also takes a week or so to get the test results. However, the Department of Transportation is working towards moving from urine to hair for DOT drug testing because of its 90-day detection window. The hair follicle test will soon be used in all DOT-regulated drug testing.
The most significant advantage is that it’s conducted in plain view. This makes it impossible for an employee to tamper with the sample.
Additionally, because it analyzes the drug metabolites inside the hair shaft, external contaminants or adulterants have absolutely no effect. In other words, washing your hair to remove evidence of drug use does not work.
Another advantage is that this screening test offers a far longer detection window than the mouth swab or urine drug testing.
Why drug test in the first place?
It’s no secret that workplace drug use costs the American economy $190 billion a year.
The loss of productivity and, even, absenteeism may not even be the abuser, but a family member of someone that is abusing drugs. An estimated 26% of employed adults have substance users in their families. Moreover, of those, 42% felt that their job productivity was negatively affected.
It doesn’t take much looking to see that our country is battling addiction on every front.
We have to keep fighting.
Employers who drug test employees do so because it is an extremely effective way to promote a drug-free workplace. Education is another critical factor. Host a drug-free lifestyle class. Pass out literature advocating the pros of being drug-free at work and play.
If and when an employee tests positive for illicit drug use, you can become a driving force that will help them discover a life free of drugs.
Whether or not the employee ever returns to his position, he will have an opportunity to realize what drug use has afforded him to date. It can be a wake-up call that will be the catalyst for change.
When can this method be used?
Employers don’t just drug test their employees on a whim. Testing must be conducted according to an employer’s established drug testing program. If an employer uses the hair follicle method, an employee could be asked to provide a sample for the following:
Pre-employment drug test
If an employee has been through the application process and background checks, the pre-employment drug test is usually near the end of the hiring process.
Random drug test
The DOT requires all safety-sensitive employees to take part in a random testing pool. At predetermined intervals throughout the year, a random list of names is generated. The employees on the list must take a drug test. Employers of the general workforce sometimes choose to include random drug testing in their drug-free policies.
Reasonable suspicion test
Management and supervisors are generally trained in what to look for regarding an employee that is impaired by drug use. If an employee meets the criteria, they will take a drug test.
Post-accident drug test
Some employers only require this test necessary if the on-site supervisor suspects drug use. Other companies conduct the post-accident drug test to all concerned immediately. These tests are very beneficial in determining who is liable for the accident.
Return-to-duty drug test
If an employee has tested positive for drugs in the past and has completed the requirements put forth by the company to return to work, he can not do so until taking the return-to-duty drug test.
Probation drug test
Even after a negative return-to-duty drug test result, the employee amid a probationary period may be required by company policy to submit to a random drug test periodically. The probationary period is predetermined and documented.
How does this test work?
This testing method can be conducted literally anywhere because no fluid samples are collected and no privacy is required.
During the collection process, a specialist will first review identifying information of the test subject. They will then use a pair of scissors to collect approximately 120 strands of hair (approximately 100 milligrams) from the test subject’s head. Several samples can be collected from multiple locations if there are concerns that taking the hair specimen will leave an empty or bald-looking patch,.
The specialist will collect a hair specimen, which is typically about 1.5 inches long, from as close to the surface of the scalp as possible to enable the laboratory to identify recent drug use. While technically drug use can be identified throughout the entire sample, employers are usually most interested in the 90 days prior to the test, so the end of the strand will usually be discarded and only a short section of the base will be used for testing.
The hair specimen is collected and placed in a tamper-proof plastic bag and sent to the lab for testing. Testing measures specific substances in the proteins of the hair follicle. The cortex of hair strands stores deposits that remain in the body after a drug has metabolized in the system.
This testing method is popular among employers because it provides an in-depth look at the prior drug-related behavior of potential job candidates or employees.
- Offers a longer detection window than other drug test types
- Shows historical drug use behavior
- Almost impossible to manipulate by the drug user
- Detects drugs that metabolize quickly, such as cocaine
- Taken most seriously by test takers, which can deter candidates who know they will not pass
- Works even on people with no head hair because body hair can also be used
- Can be a little more costly than a urine drug test
- Results can take a little longer to obtain
- Not a good way to test for impairment or very recent drug usage
- Not an approved method for the DOT drug testing
Use a pro or a DIY kit?
There are kits on the market that allow you to collect the hair samples. However, there are no hair follicle kits that produce immediate results on site. You will send the specimens off to a lab for testing. The results come by return mail.
Hiring a professional to take care of the collection and transportation process affords you peace of mind. The testing technician follows your stipulations for conducting the test from the moment they arrive on site. Test subjects finish their part of the process in minutes.
The specimens undergo two tests after they arrive at the lab. The first is called an immunoassay test. This test quickly determines a negative result. Any hair samples that yield a positive result then undergo a gas chromatography test to identify the precise drug metabolites in the body and measure the level found.
Drugs that can be identified
A hair drug test can detect various legal and illegal substances within a window of a few days after drug use up to 90 days, including, but not limited to:
- Opiates / opioids
- Synthetic marijuana
- Ecstasy (MDMA)
- Crystal meth
- Rohypnol (roofies)
Are there scenarios where it cannot be used?
There are certain scenarios when a hair follicle drug test cannot be used, which is a major limitation in areas other than pre-employment screening. Because it can take time for the drugs used to show up in the hair, the hair has to grow beyond the scalp to show results. In other words, you would not be able to take a hair sample from someone who used methamphetamine for the first time today or yesterday and see that they used the drug. It would typically take five to seven days for the hair to grow enough for the drug to show up as a positive result.
DOT drug testing
This method is not currently accepted by the Department of Transportation for DOT drug testing. However, they do have plans to implement this method due to its significantly longer detection window. For instance, if an employer would be testing an employed driver after an accident on the job, a hair drug test would not suffice as evidence of whether the driver was under the influence. Hair follicle tests can be highly effective for employers who hire drivers and operators using a thorough pre-hiring screening.
It is often assumed that if a person has no hair on their head, this method won’t work. This is not the case, because body hair can also be used as a sample. However, the rate of body hair growth varies greatly compared to head hair growth, so the results of the test can be a little less reliable or a little less in-depth. Additionally, hair drug tests can be performed no matter how the hair has been treated. If an employee has used chemically treatments, such as perming agents, dyes, or other styling products, the outcome of the test results will not be affected.
Overall, this is the most effective and comprehensive method for determining whether your employees or prospects have used drugs.
Can a hair follicle drug test be cheated?
There are detox and cleansing products on the market to “beat” every type of drug test. Shampoos are the name of the game here, of course. We didn’t take the time to look them all up because they don’t work.
Not a single one.
However, a few brands that hit the top of the search engine charts are:
- Old Style Aloe by Toxin Rid
- High Voltage Detox Shampoo
- Magnum Detox Shampoo
We hope employees don’t spend a lot of their hard-earned money on these products. Especially, because they may be unemployed soon. The shampoos average about $35.00 for a tiny bottle of the super soap. Someone should spread the word that washing the outside of the hair isn’t changing a thing about the inside of the hair.
Drug metabolites that make their way to the hair follicles grow out into the center of the hair shaft. They infuse in the center of the hair shaft. They become a part of the hair itself. How do these companies profess washing it away?
If you believe everything you read, this routine claims to work 90% of the time.
This method specifies removing THC metabolites from your hair, and the instructions say the first step is the hardest. Stop smoking.
Abbreviated steps 2-6 are as follows:
- Dampen, don’t saturate, hair with warm water.
- Thoroughly saturate your hair with Heinz vinegar. Yes, it specifies Heinz vinegar, however, it is Heinz white vinegar? Perhaps, Heinz apple cider vinegar? Are there other types of vinegar? Choose which works best for you. Maybe.
- Mind your face, eyes, and ears for this step. Clean and Clear Pink fights acne with salicylic acid which can cause burning and skin irritation. Squeeze a sizeable amount of the Clean and Clear in your palm and rub your hands together. Distribute the acne medication throughout your hair. Really rub aggressively and get it on every strand.
- Wrap your head in a towel or put on a shower cap and let the two ingredients get the steamy reaction going. Leave on for at least 30 minutes and no longer than 45.
- Rinse your hair using Old Style Aloe Rid Detox shampoo. This part is critical. The process will absolutely not work if you don’t use this brand of detox shampoo.
- Lastly, wash your hair using liquid Tide laundry detergent. Yes, they specified Tide. It must be liquid. Watch out for your eyes!
Expect your scalp to be uncomfortable and possibly red.
Also, you must repeat this process at least four times in the three days leading up to the drug test. Will you have a scalp at all by that point? We aren’t sure. We are sure, however, that it won’t help employees to actually cheat a hair drug test.
While the Mancujo method stipulates it was for pot users, the Jerry G claims to strip your hair of all drug metabolites. It will strip your hair right from your scalp is the way we’re thinking. Oh man. Who would do this?
Are you ready?
- On the first day, bleach your hair blonde. Then dye it back using ammonia-based hair dye.
- Wash your hair thoroughly with Toxin Rid shampoo.
- Air dry your hair after washing as it will be in a very fragile condition. It won’t be able to take the heat.
- On day 10, repeat the above four steps.
- On the day of the test, apply a baking soda paste to your hair and scrub.
- Rinse the paste out with Toxin Rid shampoo followed with Ultra Clean shampoo.
- Don’t forget to air dry because your hair will be in a very fragile condition and will not be able to take the heat.
Hopefully, they will still use scissors to collect the hair specimen and not pry some out of your distraught employee’s hand.
Frequently Asked Questions
The hair follicle drug test is becoming a more widely used choice by employers for employee drug testing. It is more expensive than the urine drug test but offers advantages that some are deeming worthy of the cost.
The answers to some commonly asked questions appear below. Should you have others, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Our knowledgeable staff is at the ready to answer any questions you may have regarding the hair follicle test or questions on other subjects. We’re here to help you establish the drug testing procedures that best meet your needs.
How long do drugs stay in an employee’s hair?
An undetermined length of time, actually. As the hair grows, new deposits of metabolites within the hair shaft keep a running tally of drug use. However, the general test uses only a 1-½” sample of hair and will look back 90 days
What drugs show up in a hair test?
Any drugs can be added to a testing panel. The most common drug test used by employers is the 5-panel drug test. It searches for amphetamines/methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, PCP, and opiates. Ecstasy (MDMA) is also detected within the search.
Employers may use ready-made panels or set up specific tests to detect drugs of their choosing.
Can employers conduct hair drug tests in states where marijuana is legal?
Yes. Employers can keep marijuana on their drug tests because it is still considered an illegal drug by the federal government.
Can a hair test detect one-time use?
Yes. Any drug use with the exception of drugs used up to five days prior to the test will be detected with the hair test.
Do hair follicle tests detect infrequent use?
Yes. Unless drugs have been used for the first time within the 5 days just prior to the test, drug use will be detected.
Are employees required to take the test?
Odds are they should if they want to keep their job. A refusal to test usually equals a dismissal.
Is this acceptable for DOT drug testing?
No, not at this time. The DOT uses the urine drug test, but switching to the hair testing method is in the works.
Do hair products affect testing?
No, because the metabolites that make drug detection possible are deposited inside the hair shaft. However, bleached hair does not retain the metabolites as well as unbleached hair. In the same fashion, blonde hair does not retain the metabolites containing drugs as well as brunette hair. Drugs are detected in light-colored hair, just not to the degree of dark hair.
How soon can this testing method identify drug use?
The turnaround time for a negative result is 24 hours. If a positive result is determined within the batch, a second test is done that actually identifies the drugs that have been detected. This process makes total turnaround time around 72 hours.
How long does the test take?
A hair follicle test does not involve plucking hairs to obtain the actual follicle for testing. The metabolites are first deposited in the hair follicles and then grow out into the hair. The test is noninvasive and can be conducted anywhere. A quick snip of about 120 hairs is made in a hidden area close to the scalp. Your employee can get right back to work.
What are the cut-off levels?
The cutoff levels for the 5-panel drug test (most commonly used by employers) are:
- Amphetamines/Methamphetamines AMP/MAMP2 : 500 ng/mg
- Cocaine: 1 ng/mg
- Marijuana: 500 ng/mg
- Opiates (Morphine/Codeine): 300 ng/mg
- PCP: 300 ng/mg
How soon are results typically available?
Final results are returned in about 72 hours for the hair follicle test.
How accurate is this type of drug test?
The hair follicle drug test is extremely accurate. Since the metabolites are stored within the hair shaft, claims that there are shampoos to “beat” the test are false.
Is switching to the hair follicle test the best choice for employers?
The hair follicle test certainly affords employers the most extended period to detect drug use. Since the drug metabolites grow out into the hair, the detection window is significantly longer.
Will severely damaged hair produce a false negative result? Or vice versa?
No. Damaged hair will not have any bearing on the drug test. The drug metabolites grow out into the hair shaft becoming a part of the hair itself.
What is the difference between Δ9-THC and THC-COOH?
Other than it starts with a triangle rather than a letter you mean? That’s enough to blow many a non-scientific mind right there.
Simply put, though, Δ9-THC is the cannabis molecule found in marijuana smoke. It is loaded with them!
THC-COOH is the THC metabolite that remains in the body after THC has been metabolized. These drug metabolites store themselves in various places in the body like, say, hair follicles and fat cells.
Will a hair follicle test show a positive result for THC if an employee takes CBD?
Yes, this could happen. The reason is that the levels of THC vary in CBD products.
It is mainly due to the fact that there is no regulation regarding extraction methods. Also, different strains of the hemp plant contain more significant or lower levels of THC. While the hemp plant never contains enough THC to get someone high, it does contain levels that could build up over time and cause a positive drug test result.
Alternatively, if tested soon after taking the product, the level could be high enough to produce a positive result one day, but a test given after more time had passed after taking CBD could create a negative outcome.
If you have employees that use CBD, they should research these products. There are reputable manufacturers out there. Some even advertise having no THC at all in their products.